In the Rouen suburb of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, just 70 miles from the parish served by our own Ordinariate priest, Father Scott Anderson, where I attended Mass twice a few days ago, two Islamic State terrorists entered the parish church through the sacristy, interrupted the morning Mass and murdered the retired celebrant, Father Jacques Hamel, injuring two others and taking five worshippers hostage (including two religious sisters).
This is the most recent in a continuous chain of monstrous crimes being committed in various European countries in recent months, but this is the first which has specifically attacked a Christian community in their place of worship and during a celebration of their faith. The sacreligious nature of this crime just adds to its barbarity.
This comes at a time when two million young Catholics are assembled in Cracow, Poland, for World Youth Day. Security is being written in large letters in Cracow – what a world do we live in, in which we must fear for the lives of our young people as they gather to praise God?
Let us pray for the martyred priest in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray:
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.
And let us also pray for those badly injured in this attack, as well as for their families and friends and for all the people of the Catholic parish.
But let us not forget the two assaillants who were killed as they left the church, shouting “Allahu akbar”.
Help, Lord, that this kind of religious fanaticism can be overcome and strengthen our own resolve to meet hatred with love and war with peace. Amen.
The Archbishop of Rouen, Monseigneur Dominique Lebrun, hearing of this tragedy, said the following at Cracow before taking a plane to return to his diocese:
“L’Église catholique ne peut prendre d’autres armes que la prière et la fraternité entre les hommes. Je laisse ici des centaines de jeunes qui sont l’avenir de l’humanité, la vraie. Je leur demande de ne pas baisser les bras devant les violences et de devenir des apôtres de la civilisation de l’amour.”
(“The Catholic Church can take up no other arms than prayer and fraternity among people. Here in Cracow I am leaving behind hundreds of young people who are the future of humanity, the true future. I ask them not to give up in the face of violence and to become apostles of the civilisation of love.”)